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Germany extends lifetime of remaining nuclear plants

October 17, 2022

After coalition wrangling over nuclear power, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has decided that all three plants should run throughout the winter. Germany has been scrambling to reorganize its energy mix amid gas cuts.

The Isar 2 nuclear power plant
Nuclear power is a touchy political topic in Germany, even as energy shortages loomImage: Armin Weigel/dpa/picture alliance

Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday ordered Germany's three remaining nuclear plants to remain in operation until April to fend off a possible energy crunch.

There has been disagreement in the governing coalition over the lifespan of nuclear power plants.

However, Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Green Party on Monday said he accepted the fact that Scholz had overridden others in the Cabinet.

The chancellor has asked the Economy, Environment and Finance Ministries to create the legal basis for the plants to remain open. 

"The legal basis will be created to allow the operation of the nuclear power plants Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland beyond December 31, 2022, until April 15, 2023," Scholz said in a statement.

Scholz also requested that the ministries present an "ambitious" law to increase energy efficiency, as well as a binding agreement to phase out coal by 2030.

Germany planned to complete a phaseout of nuclear power by the end of 2022, but a energy supply crunch following Russian gas cuts  has caused lengthy debate over keeping nuclear power plants at the ready. 

Political disagreement over nuclear power

On Friday, the Greens had agreed to keep two nuclear power plants in southern Germany in reserve until April, but wanted to shut down a third power plant in the northwestern Emsland district by the end of the year. The Free Democrats (FDP) have pushed to keep all three plants open until 2024.

"It is in the vital interest of our country and its economy that we maintain all our energy production capacities this winter. The chancellor has now created clarity," Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the FDP tweeted Monday.

Germany's largest power company, RWE, said after Scholz's announcement that it would immediately begin preparing to extend operations of its Emsland power plant until April 2022.

However, Ricarda Lang, Greens co-leader, criticized Scholz's decision, saying that that the Emsland nuclear power plant is "not required for grid stability," and its continued operation would not be necessary.

The operator of the Neckarwestheim 2 plant in Baden-Wurttemberg, EnBW, warned that the German government needs to provide a legal framework for extending operations of the nuclear plant "as quickly as possible" or the plant will be shut down as planned at the end of December.

E.ON, which operates the Isar 2 plant in the southwestern state of Bavaria, had said in September it would be ready to continue operations after an overhaul of pressure valves.

Germany's nuclear phase-out

German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke promised that Germany would stick to its nuclear phase-out  by the end of April 2023.   

"There will be no extensions and no new fuel rods," said the Greens' politician on Twitter following Scholz's announcement.

Germany's nuclear phaseout began in 2000 under an SPD-Green coalition government, which shut down a number of plants.

Years later, under former Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative CDU, Germany decided to shut down its remaining nuclear plants following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. 

The Russian war in Ukraine has forced Germany to keep the remaining plants operating beyond their planned end-of-year phaseout.

Germany had to restructure its energy mix due to a collapse in energy supplies from Russia.

Soaring energy prices have brought fears of heating and energy shortages in Europe's largest economy during winter. 

lo/wmr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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